Hen Cho is on the phone.
“Hey man.. I need some help covering this Lava thing at Toast. I don’t get off work in time to shoot the whole show, can you help a brother out?”
Sure. I can shoot it with you. I’ll do a little write-up. No problem.
“Ah.. Cool! Um.. You aren’t gonna do it like you did the last time, right? That whole thing where you just made shit up?”
Of course not, Hen. I’m your friend. I would never do that to you.
“I’m just sayin. People were lookin’ at me funny everywhere I went for like, two months.”
Total verisimilitude shall be the word of the day.
“You’re not gonna print this, right? This is off the record?”
Absolutely, Hen. What kind of bastard do you think I am?
. . .
Any given music scene at any given time is essentially at its core a conglomeration of warring tribes. Death metal-heads squaring off against Neo-Folkies. Punk rockers festooned in patchwork jean jackets. Emo shoegazers milling about on the outskirts. Open violence between Prog fans and Triphoppers. Trance vs. Rap. Jazzbos vs. Blueshounds. Winner take all.
Imagine Gangs of New York. But you know.. With guitars.
LavaFest, the brainchild of local impresario — Josh Coplan, nominally takes place in the Spring through the culmination of a year long effort and is an attempt to fuse disparate parts into a cohesive jam that has something to offer to everyone.
Running a successful festival series requires a certain perseverance in keeping the brand front and center in your localities mindspace — and so we’re occasionally treated to shows in the off season. Tonight’s confab at Toast is one of those events.
I roll up on the six-fifty and park just by the side driveway. Mosey over to the entrance and pick up my wristband. The air is portent with chill and threatening rain. Firepits have been kicked off. Attendees are already massing at the edges of flickering flames for warmth. I smell hispter beer. This is an excellent sign.
Hen is nowhere to be seen. I check my watch. It’s five after six. He should arrive shortly.
. . .
There is a DJ on the bill. Ryan Thomas. The name sounds familiar, but I can’t place a face with it, because I’m old and fading and will likely die soon. A deejay’s function at a show like this is to push back the cold abyss of sonic voids. Thomas performed this role admirably. I’m unfamiliar with the intricacies of the job beyond these key minor points, so I’ll assume that since at no moment throughout the evening did I find myself muttering, “Why’s it so fucking quiet in here?” — Mr Thomas performed brilliantly.
Kudos to you, sir.
Jesse R. Berlin
Imagine.. If Bonnie Prince William’s ‘I See a Darkness’ were an actual live human being instead of a song. Now imagine that that live human being decided to walk away from playing the blues and instead perform against prerecorded synth tracks all by himself in some sort of twisted, unholy merging of Elvis and a small crowd of Lounge Singers.
If you can do all that while simultaneously dropping a dozen tabs of primo grade L.S.D. and a handful of Quaaludes you’ll begin to get a sense for Jesse Berlin’s act. While I’m not sure this is something you’d find me listening to around the house, I was left strangely pleased by what I had witnessed.
. . .
My phone rings. It’s Hen. “Dude, the show’s started. Where are you?”
“I’m not.. I don’t know. I took a nap before work and woke up in… Bangkok? At least.. I think it’s Bangkok. It might be Singapore. I’m not sure.”
“I don’t fucking know what happened, man!!! I’m trying to get a ticket back, now. Only.. No one wants to take American dollars since Trump won. I’m working out a loan on a kidney as collateral.”
Jesus, man. Well.. Uh. Get here when you can.
. . .
Anatomy of Frank
From out of C-Ville, Anatomy of Frank is a wide traveling, hard charging group. They’ve been on tour globally for the past year or so. The music is essentially chamber pop-folk. Imagine something like Of Monsters and Men but without the goth influence or girls.
For whatever reason, only one member of the band was on hand — lead singer Kyle Woolard, armed with an acoustic guitar. This music was disarmingly earnest and displayed a touching vulnerability. At a few key points Kyle connected with an audience mostly comprised of Millennials — a demographic that is likely reeling at the dawn of making America great again.
Young people got fucked twice this election cycle. First through the defeat of Bernie, and then with a second soul crushing moment after many swallowed ire over DNC shenanigans, held their nose and voted for Hillary — only to wake up in a country they no longer recognize. There’s a palpable sense of loss in this crowd, and I can’t say I blame them. They went from free healthcare and college to “well, at least the right to choose will be left alone” to Mike Pence and his Genital Police.
Woodward did a grand job of providing a soothing sense of, “Hey – we’re gonna be okay. We’ve still got each other” throughout his set. I look forward to seeing the full band one day.
How much do I love the Trillions? Let me count the ways. They art lovely and rockin the fuck out. Best of all, these kids are Richmond based, which means I can see ’em again soon enough. This unsigned four-piece blends bits and pieces of glam, 60’s Scorch Rock, and heaping slabs of enthusiasm to dazzling effect.
I thoroughly enjoyed this set. And really, a band like this highlights Lava organizer Josh Coplan’s consummate skill at keeping an ear to the ground for great music within the reach of local venues. I expect these kids will have been snatched up to a label by the next time they roll through Tidewater.
How to describe these cats. Punk funk? Garage soul? Whatever. For the time they held the stage we forgot about everything that’s shitty and just danced. What else do you need from a band, really?
Visiting from Brooklyn, or so I heard, the seven members of Evolfo comprise a rhythm section fused with brass fronted by a wild man lead guitarist.
. . .
The phone rings midway through Evolfo’s set. It’s Hen again. I can barely hear him — there’s some strain of strange Gregorian chanting going on in the background.
“I’m.. I’m on a boat.”
“Yeah.. It’s a boat. Well.. It’s.. For all intents and purposes it’s a boat.”
“I might be awhile.”
. . .
Ambient Rock home based right here in our City of the Holy Cannonball. There’s something deeply soulful about these kids. Immensely likable, they seem like a good bunch of guys you know? I mean.. For all I know about ’em they might be cannibal slave traders from off the coast of Guyana. I doubt it. But all things are possible.
Sonicwise, I’m reminded a little bit of the 90’s heyday of Live. A group you don’t hear much from these days. In fact, as I type that I wonder what happened to them. I’ll have to look it up. They were everywhere once, and now they’re gone. Such is life, I guess.
The name of this group is a reference, if I’m not mistaken, to a character in Elder Scrolls. Which means on top of being fantastic musicians weaving emotionally complex tunes? These guys are all massive geeks. We can smell our own, ya know?
I’m a little bit in love with this sound.
. . .
Phone rings again at the end of this set. I answer, “Hen? That you?? What’s going on man?”
“The way is shut. It was made by those who are Dead, and the Dead keep it, until the time comes. The way is shut.”
Uh.. You okay, Hen? You.. Ah. You don’t sound so good?
“The dead do not suffer the living to pass.”
Right. Okay. Just.. Do what you need to do. The show’s almost fucking over, dude.
. . .
I last caught Midnight Snack at one of Coplan’s earlier fests over at Bold Mariner Brewery. While I enjoyed the sound at that time, I was a bit bewildered by the intense devotion fans show for this group.
Tonight, I finally get it.
The music is some sort of fusion between a kind of amalgamation of 80’s pop-soul with new wave performance art sensibilities. Throw in some chucks of something resembling jazz with bits and pieces of delightfully weird musical afterthoughts and then roll it all up into a highly danceable vibe. You walk off from a Midnight Snack showing absolutely convinced that their musicians are all top notch and that something deeply important just happened, even if you’re not sure exactly what it was.
In the past, I’ve had a little trouble with connecting here — they came off a little too cool for my taste, a bit too precise. But something about this time around loosened the group up. There were nods to the precariousness of these dark days from the bandleader. There was a communication that they are just as scared shitless of what’s coming as we are, and in that communication, a bond was formed.
. . .
Around this time I walked out to grab something from my bike, only to find out that at some point in the evening some jerk had knocked her over without leaving a note. Whoever you are, if you’re reading this? You owe me a new brake lever.
. . .
DJP and Mr. T
Let me be straight up with you. I fucking adore this group. Between the three of them and all their side projects the members of DJP & Mr. T seemingly make up half the bands in town. They’re all incredibly talented on their own, but together? They’re quite simply amazing.
Nominally, if you’re unfamiliar with their sound, this is a Synth Pop band. But that label doesn’t really do it justice. Jacki Paolella, Tyler Warnalis, and Charles Abadam have created something that at once epitomizes the Platonist Ideal of Pop while managing at the same time to surpass previous incarnations of the form. It’s exceedingly rare that you’ll hear me tell you a Synth Pop band rocks like Hendrix — but here it is. A warlock’s stew of Hip Hop, Electronica, and straight up Rock and Roll fury. Throw in a bit of Shakespeare in the form of their soundtrack for a musical rendition of Taming of the Shrew? You have the seeds for my forever love of what they do, as well as a breathless anticipation of what comes next.
If there is any justice in this world? DJP & Mr. T will break nationally and make a ton of money.
. . .
Thunder cracks the sky. My hairs stand on end as lightning arcs. Bewildered, I turn to survey the horizon while DJP & Mr T is blowing up the stage. And then I suss the source. My blood runs cold.
Hen Cho has finally arrived.
Hen Cho is running towards us.
Hen Cho is screaming something. I can’t quite make it out.
I spot movement behind him. A shapeless form massing with growing menace. I squint, trying to discern the nature of what’s happening. And then I realize.
Hen Cho has brought with him an army of the dead.
Flaming skeletal warriors clad in Duck Dynasty hoodies. Redcapped, wielding cudgels fashioned from the smelted down remains of Bud Light bottles and discarded F150 parts. They flood into the parking lot. Swarm around the hall where moments before we were just having a grand time with the music.
We’re trapped. Trapped deep in the savage heart of the city. Surrounded on three sides by all manner of cutthroat barbarians yawking and mewing about greatness and walls and snowflakes. We were fucking doomed. Doomed, I tell you.
Jacki P and her crew reached deep inside and kicked it up to eleven, laying down an indomitable wall of glory rending sound. The muddy concrete quaked to witness, as with one voice, the crowd rose up in such beautiful defiance to shake justice loose from heaven.
In that moment, a man could remember that there was once such a thing as bright days on the horizon. That life is possibility, and that so long as a single breath remains to drive the dance?
Hope springs eternal.
. . .
“You’re not gonna do it like last time, right? You’re not just gonna make up a bunch of stupid shit?
Of course not Hen. I’m your friend. I would never do that to you.
“You’re sure? I mean..”
Total verisimilitude is the word of the day, Hen.
“Yeah.. Okay. Good.”
“Hey.. Wait up..”
“That’s two words.”
Is it? I hadn’t noticed.
Apologies to DAPZAM — I had to book before their set and as such was unable to include them in this review. Next time for sure — I heard they rocked!